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What is cupping?

For the coffee business, the process of cupping forms a key part of assessing and scoring samples in order to ascertain the character of a particularly coffee and check for quality.

It is a complicated and exact procedure carried out by professionals, which is designed to map out the flavour profile and assess the quality of a coffee after beans have been roasted.

The process has been carried out since the 19th century and it is a valuable part of what we do at DR Wakefield, providing us with the confidence that we are selling a consistently high-quality product to our customers, with the qualities that our clients are looking for.

This professional taste test is conducted by several specialists, who take many notes at each part of the proceedings, and involves comparison and evaluation.

Cupping includes observing the aroma and taste of coffee within a strict framework, with experts in this field referred to as Master Tasters.

Master Tasters should be well-versed in what identifies coffees according to the various growing regions around the world and botanical varieties.

Each expert also has a significant understanding and knowledge of the character of coffee, as well as a desire to learn more about the drink, in order to carry out an effective assessment.

What is the purpose of cupping?

In addition to determining the quality and character of coffee, cupping can also be used to compare beans from different regions and to create blends.

The strict process is also used to identify defective coffee and to create an accurate description of the flavour and aroma of samples.

After readings are taken for a range of qualities, a final score is attributed to each coffee being tested that gives an indication of its level of quality, alongside the descriptions written down by each taster.

What equipment is needed for cupping?

In order carry out the process professionally and thoroughly, a number of items should be to hand, including a spittoon to expel sipped cups into and a specialised spoon for each taster.

The cups used during cupping are very important and are usually eight-ounce vessels to enable tasters to examine the appearance of the coffee, view any sediments that form and inspect the foam on top of the beverage.

When it comes to the ideal environment for cupping, the Statistics & Standards Committee of the Specialty Coffee Association of America recommends a well-lit room that is clear of any competing aromas, comfortable and quiet, with limited distractions.

Other items that are important when examining coffee samples are a colour reading device, forms, paperwork and pens, and hot water equipment.

How do you prepare cupping samples?

Samples are traditionally roasted no more than 24 hours before and ground immediately prior to tasting, so a roaster and grinder are required to prepare the coffee beans.

The green and roasted samples are often compared at the end of the process for appearance.

Grounds are assessed for fragrance, before filtered water just off the boil is added to the coffee.

What do you assess during cupping?

By sniffing and slurping the coffee, testers assess factors such as the aroma, mouthfeel, sweetness, acidity, body, balance, defects, flavour and aftertaste.

At each stage of the process, the aroma of the coffee is sampled and observations written down. Descriptions of aroma and flavour include a series of stock words and phrases, including caramel, earthy, floral, nutty, spicy, woody, bitter and salty.

Cups should be compared with each other and samples are tasted both when they are warm and when they have cooled down to determine flavours.

Samples are scored by testers on a quality scale from zero to ten, with higher numbers denoting better quality, from 6.0 (good) to 9.0 (outstanding). Scores are added up and defects subtracted to give a final score.

And finally…

Cupping can be done less formally by non-professionals who love coffee and want to gain a greater understanding of it.

Even expert professionals sometimes disagree as cupping is an art as well as a science, and Master Tasters will agree that there is always more to learn about when it comes to coffee.

If you want to find out more, give us a call today to find out when we are next holding a cupping session to which you can come along in order to learn more about this fascinating art.